Five things we learned from the Orioles' week at baseball's winter meetings

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

With the first winter meetings of the new era of Orioles baseball under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias wrapped Thursday, the first glimpse at how the team might be operated and what its short- and long-term goals are provided plenty to ponder.

Some things remained the same, including a flurry of Rule 5 draft action on the final day. But whether formally announced or confirmed by the team or not, the fact that they're coming home with a manager in Chicago Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde exceeded expectations.

What began as a unique winter meetings experience as the first team without a manager at the event in recent memory was made even more so by the reporting of Hyde's selection on MLB Network as Elias was meeting the local media Tuesday night and saying emphatically that he hadn't selected a manager.

But now that the dust has settled, and we've again established that analytics are more a concept than a tangible thing to help improve slumping slugger Chris Davis, here are five things we learned from the Orioles' week at baseball's winter meetings.

Major league teams, including the Orioles, seemed to have learned something about hiring a modern-day manager.

Hyde, the Orioles’ presumptive choice for manager, fits with the perceived goals that the replacement for Buck Showalter was going to be someone with a background in player development — something he'll have to do in many cases on the major league roster with an unproven group — and an adaptability to try new things that the progressive front office will ask in terms of data integration.

But he still has to manage, and the fact that Hyde has that experience in his background from a simpler time in the game (way back in the late-2000s) and watched the major league game adapt around him on Joe Maddon’s staff with the 2016 World Series champion Cubs is only a benefit for the Orioles.

Gabe Kapler had a year of minor league managing before his year with the Philadelphia Phillies, and that was a tough go. The New York Yankees’ Aaron Boone came from the broadcast booth and had to grow into the rhythms and decisions of a game on the job. The Boston Red Sox’s Alex Cora was only briefly a bench coach, but he had managing experience in the World Baseball Classic. It seems that in just a year's time, organizations searching for managers realized that you can get someone adaptable to the analytical practices and the flexibility required of the modern manager while still running a team.

There will still be growing pains for Hyde. They'll play out on a team without much margin for error, and thus will be magnified. But he's not a blank slate in terms of standing on the top step of a dugout. When he had to manage minor league games, his coaches on the bench said nothing got past him. He'll have to juggle a lot more than he did in Jupiter and Jacksonville, but with that background, he has enough experience.

The quiet is on purpose.

Even leaving aside the part where a team can't announce something until a contract is signed and a hire becomes official, the closed-up nature of the Orioles' managerial search and the general quiet on how they're operating this offseason isn't an accident.

For starters, that was the reputation of the Houston front office where Elias and company came from. That's also what the Orioles sought as the combined decades in the game of the old guard meant there were a lot of ways for information to get out of Baltimore and into the water supply, and the resulting perception wasn't always a good one.

The media will always value open and honest flow of information where it's possible. Elias spending 15 minutes batting away the notion that he'd hire a manager only to have Hyde's selection flash across his television screen while briefing the media created an uncomfortable situation that seemed to have as much to do with his stated mission of keeping things close to the vest as it did the notion that all five of the other candidates were learning of it this way and a more personal touch was in order for an interview process that seemed intensive.

The obfuscation mirrored what happened with Elias’ own hiring, which was reported during the owner's meetings last month but wasn't finalized and formally announced for several days to allow for that event's completion. The two scenarios are unique ones, and there's not really any other hire or scenario where it seems as if it can be replicated. But the general sense of quiet that's come from the Orioles will likely continue — and it might take some adjusting for fans and the media alike.

Elias acknowledged there's going to be a lot of losing.

Having not been at or written about Elias' introductory press conference last month, but having watched it all either during or after the fact, it's hard to say for sure whether he's directly addressed the idea of winning at the major league level not being the priority in the near-term. He did Wednesday when asked if players with three years of club control remaining, like Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens, were going to become trade assets because the club won't be winning by the time they'd reach free agency.

"Our organizational mission is very clear right now," Elias said. "We want to elevate and improve and broaden the talent base across the entire organization. Once we get to a point where — and I don't know when or what that point is — but when we arrive at that point through good acquisitions, though good drafts, through improving the players that are here, and we feel that we're ready to embark on a sustainable run, we will shift gears towards maximizing major league wins. I'm going to try to do that as soon as we possibly can. But it's not a process that you can chart with extreme precision, when it comes to timelines."

It's semantics, but shifting gears toward maximizing major league wins at an indeterminate point in the future means that won't be the goal currently. Given how crucial their top draft picks were in Houston, that's a reasonable goal. It's just good that, however indirectly, it's been addressed.

It's why the idea of even thinking about bringing outfielder Adam Jones back to throw the fans a bone isn't really a consideration. It's why Elias described a factor in whatever the Orioles do in free agency as being the ability to possibly trade that player down the road. And it's why Tim Beckham, who has at least enjoyed some major league success, wasn't brought back, and instead they'll try and plug in less-expensive Rule 5 picks such as Richie Martin and/or Drew Jackson in his stead.

The July trades to slash payroll that also culled controllable major league talent from the ranks was a sign this would be the case, but at least there's some acknowledgement here of what's going on.

Baltimore is still the Rule 5 capital of baseball.

Speaking of those Rule 5 picks, the Orioles coming away with Martin and Jackson means that their affinity for the fringes of other teams' rosters is alive and well. In a way, these picks are more defensible, given where the team has said its priorities are. It's not as if they're talking out both sides of their mouth and handing out $161 million contracts in the same offseason they take their Opening Day left fielder in the Rule 5 draft, or signing three free-agent pitchers to big league deals worth north of $70 million only to carry three Rule 5 players on the Opening Day roster.

These fill a legitimate organizational need in the middle infield and change the face of what to this point was their greatest organizational depth weakness, so it's a bit different than the past. Perhaps these players will be the ones who break through and become the kind of everyday regular that Joey Rickard tantalized that he could be before he was relegated to a bench and platoon role.

But as the baseball world buzzed over the big three-way trade featuring Edwin Encarnación and Carlos Santana between the Tampa Bay Rays, the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners on Thursday, this was the Orioles' main piece of business. Some things never change.

Brady Anderson can probably find a home in this operation.

With director of player development Brian Graham, who was the interim general manager before Elias was hired, and director of amateur scouting Gary Rajsich not retained, the only member of the triumvirate of decision-makers that remained after the Orioles cleaned house in October is Anderson.

Given his history as a player and executive with the team, and his relationship with ownership, that's only natural. What's unclear is what exactly his role is. His job description has included player development responsibilities, free agent negotiations, liaising between the front office and the manager's office, and whatever else was required in a fluid management structure.

Elias' comments on Anderson, first on an ESPN podcast and then Monday at the winter meetings, have been complimentary of both his background as a player and executive and his passion for the Orioles. Perhaps in a structure with fewer factions and a more streamlined vision, there can be less intrigue over what Anderson is doing and who gets credit for what.

And for a front office that will be modeling itself after one in Houston that became a bare-bones operation, having someone with varying interests and backgrounds already in-house to help fill out some management roles can't hurt as Elias and company get up to speed.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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